Beside Christiano Ronaldo and loads of pretty flowers, Madeira is also known for its special wine. What is so special about the Madeira wine you may ask, well if you don’t know, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a bit to find out. Everything in due time little padawan! Let’s start from the beginning. T has developed a taste for good wine the last couple years so wherever we go, I try to find a local variety of wine to try and to learn more about. So on our visit to Madeira, much like we did in Lanzarote, Madeira wine tours were must on the menu.
After careful research, I came across Blandy’s, a 200 years-old Madeira wine company in the heart of Funchal. To date we were used to the typical vineyard in the countryside, surrounded by vines and wine-producing paraphernalia. Not at Blandy’s. This family owned wine company, founded in 1811 by the Briton John Blandy, is located in an old Wine Lodge acquired during the mid 18th century by the family. Inside this majestic building you can find and taste wines dating back to the 1920s as well as other rare wines, and if you take one of the Madeira wine tours offered, you can also visit the museum and the different wine ageing rooms.
Wait, what?! Wine ageing rooms? What are you talking about? No, no I didn’t go crazy, I promise. It’s all part of the reason why Madeira wine is slightly different from your traditional wine. The Madeira wine has a long and windy (yes!) story, dating back to the discoveries period (15th and 16th Centuries). During this time ships would stop in Madeira to collect supplies for their trips, including water and wine barrels. Story tells that one of those ships returned on its way back from India part of the wine barrels picked up on the way out. The owner of the wine then realised that the quality and character of the wine had improved considerably thanks to the tropical temperatures. Thus started the trend of sending wine barrels on a trip around the world. With the years it got more expensive and wine producers started using the Canteiro method for their wines. Which consists on ageing the wines in seasoned oak casks for at least 4 years in warm attics, where the wine is stored and exposed to the natural warmth of the sun. A few years later, the wines will be slowly moved down to cooler rooms until eventually reaching the ground floor in order to finish the ageing process. None of the casks is ever 100% full, thus allowing the wines to breath and oxidize resulting in richer stronger character.
But hey, that’s not all, Madeira wine is also a Fortified wine, or what’s the same, a wine to which strong grape liquor is added once enough of the grape sugar is transformed into alcohol. Depending on the grape it’ll take between 24 hours and 7 days to happen.
According to Blandy’s website and the information we were given during the Madeira walking tours we did, all this results on two main types of Madeira wines: